After 35 years, Star Wars casts an ever-growing pop-culture shadow. Though the anniversary of the release of the original Star Wars falls on May 25, devotees of that galaxy far, far away have designated May 4, as in “May the 4th Be With You,” as the official day to party like a drunken Ewok. If you’re a diehard Star Wars fanatic, today would be the day to consider what an impact George Lucas’ space opera has had not only on J.J. Abrams, Joss Whedon, the guys at Pixar, and even Lady Gaga, but also on science, philosophy, and politics.
A lot of you also probably look at Star Wars as an unfulfilled childhood promise, a franchise that didn’t grow up with you and that’s now creatively dried up. You’ll complain about the prequels, shout down the addition of “Nooooo!” to Darth Vader’s climactic dialogue in Return of the Jedi, and bitch about Slave Leia dancing to “Genie in a Bottle” in Star Wars Kinect. Don’t give in to the Dark Side, guys! Star Wars is alive and well. If you’re willing to look beyond the big screen, and dive deep into Lucasfilm Ltd.’s sprawling treasure trove of Expanded Universe novels, comics, videogames, and one particularly satisfying TV show, this is a franchise that’s thriving. It’s time to stop complaining and start checking out these 10 recent additions to the Star Wars canon that prove it’s still a creative Force. You know your inner Boba Fett-lunchbox-carrying 12-year-old wants to.
1. Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008-Present, season 5 begins Sept. 2012) — How can you call yourself a Star Wars fan and not watch the most fun, engaging Star Wars storytelling since the original trilogy? The Clone Wars has got it all: kinetic action, gee-whiz heart, sumptuous McQuarrie-esque visuals, plus fan-friendly Expanded Universe shout-outs to everything from the Nightsisters to the Mandalorians. But you don’t have to take my word for it. How about you take legendary prequel-hater Simon Pegg’s? When he voiced Dengar on the show in February he tweeted, “The Clone Wars — making Star Wars cool again, one half-hour at a time.”
2. Star Wars: The Old Republic (For PC, with monthly subscription) — Until somebody invents their own T-14 hyperdrive, this is about as close as you’re going to get to visiting that galaxy far, far away. MSNBC’s Game of the Year has set a new standard for MMO world building and cast new light on an era when the Jedi thrived but the Sith thrived even more.
3. Darth Plagueis (Available now) — James Luceno’s epic hardcover depicts events you never thought were going to be revealed: Emperor Palpatine’s backstory, for one. How the Sith created Anakin Skywalker by manipulating the Force, for another. It almost makes midi-chlorians seem cool. Almost.
4. Dawn of the Jedi (Issues #1-3 available now, #4 on May 16) — Want to know how the Jedi got their start some 35,000 years before the events of the movies? Don’t be put off by the Romero-esque title. This color-soaked exploration of the galaxy’s ancient, ancient history, written and penciled by Star Wars comic legends John Ostrander and Jan Duursema, when those guardians of peace and justice were called “Je’daii,” is unlike any Star Wars story you’ve seen. We mean that in a good way.
5. The Essential Guide to Warfare (available now) — Interested in military tactics? Jason Fry’s glossy manual to the saga’s legendary battles will turn you into Grand Admiral Thrawn in no time. Don’t know what the kark Yogand’s Core is? Read and find out. (FYI: Yogand’s Core is the tactic of dropping a moon on your enemy’s territory. Effective!)
6. Knights of the Old Republic — War (Final issue publishing May 9) — Fans of the hit 2003 videogame will appreciate this backstory-packed depiction of the legendary Mandalorian Wars.
7. X-Wing: Mercy Kill (Available in hard cover August 7) — Beloved Star Wars author Aaron Allston returns to the cat-and-mouse storytelling of his ’90s X-Wing novels about Wraith Squadron, ace starfighter pilots who moonlight as black ops intelligence officers for the Galactic Alliance.
8. Knight Errant (Issues #1-10 available now, #11 due June 13) — John Jackson Miller’s yarn about Kerra Holt, a young Jedi wandering the galaxy during the “Dark Age of the Republic,” 1,000 years before Episode I, is Star Wars if it had been directed by Sergio Leone.
9. Crimson Empire III: Empire Lost (Available now) — The long-awaited third part of the Crimson Empire comic series sees disgraced Imperial Guard Kir Kanos gunning for Luke Skywalker in revenge for that little matter of Emperor Palpatine falling down a reactor shaft.
10. Star Tours: The Adventures Continue (At Walt Disney World and Disneyland) — Every time you ride you’ll get a different combination of characters and planets. In fact, there are 62 separate mission possibilities, so don’t plan on eating lunch beforehand.
How have you been celebrating Star Wars Day?
Star Wars’ Long Reach in Pop Culture